Wet plate collodion is a slow material for in-camera use. So we need, besides a fast lens, a lot of light, preferably containing UV as much as possible. To make some test plates I set up a studio with a still life subject. The lights were tungsten halogen lamps: Ianebeam 2000W and two Ianebeam “Redheads” 800W.
I changed my collodion to the “Old Guy” formula by Quinn Jacobson, and got a bit cleanier results — more contrast, less surface scum…
And finally I infused courage into myself to try shooting a live model. Ulla was such a forbearing poser in the irritating heat of 3600 Watts. Unfortunately it was my last plate for the day, so couldn’t experiment any more.
There were a few flaws in the plate — blotches that I could finally pin down as finger marks, formed at the time of pouring the collodion… I guess that’s because I was holding this plate “waiter style” for too long, with my fingertips warming the plate.
It’s quite hard to find some wetplate process chemicals in Finland; I have bought my collodion (Scharlau, 4%) from Cheminent, but now I hear good news from Bostick & Sullivan, the dangerous goods shipping is now available to European countries!
Here’s my ambrotype process outlined:
Clean a 18×24 cm glass plate thoroughly.
Pour collodion on the plate, let it stiffen for a while, then sensitize by dipping into silver nitrate solution for 4 minutes.
In a red safelight insert the plate into a plate holder, then go to the camera and expose the plate.
In the red safelight hold the plate and pour developer over it. Develop for 15 seconds.
Rinse the plate with water.
Put the plate in a tray of fixer (plain hypo or Hypam), fix twice the clearing time (hypo 2 min., Hypam 1 min.)
Wash in water for 10 – 15 minutes. Dry in a rack.
But there is one more step left: varnishing… haven’t tried that yet, but I think I’ll be using some of the modern acrylic varnishes (like Liquitex), rather than the traditional sandarac varnish.
I had another wet plate holder made from an 8×10″ film holder; this one works a little better than the previous wooden holder…
…and some more bad ambrotypes here… screwed up by my inexperience and awkwardness — also overexposure and maybe some issues with the chemistry…
The chemistry used here is based on the “New Guy” formula, introduced by Quinn Jacobson. I will tell more about my mix of chemicals after experimenting some more — and hopefully getting one proper ambrotype plate!
Talking of Quinn Jacobson, there are very nice videos and descriptions of the wet plate process on his website.
We found a real bargain, a used UV exposure unit, or a “copying system for the graphic art industry”, as it is stated on the user manual cover. It’s a Sack LCX3, German made, equipped with a vacuum frame, 5000W metal halide lamp, and microprocessor technology from 1980s…
Luckily a user manual (dated December 1994) came with the unit, otherwise it would have been next to impossible to figure out how to operate it, I suspect.
It is a programmable unit, and really handy actually, because you can build exposure programs into 99 channels, to be used for different materials. We already made basic programs for cyanotype, vandyke, gum, and polymer gravure. We’re going to try and fine-tune these with students in the coming weeks…